Sora blinks a grand total of three times, then chuckles, hesitantly. "Parting gift from Namine?" Kairi shrugs, as if to say that she doesn't know any more than he does, and what does it really matter, anyway? Then Sora turns to Riku, who is not even paying attention, but when he catches Sora's eyes, he just shrugs, too. And smiles.
And now, Sora shrugs, too, grinning like always. "Well, it feels like we've been gone for years." And this makes sense, because even a day spent playing on the beach feels like a lifetime, let alone out in a boat in open water. And it makes sense, because they keep talking about all the adventures they had, and with that much activity, it must feel like more time has passed than really did. And it makes sense because everybody knows Sora doesn't carry a watch, and even if Riku and Kairi thought to bring a watch or a calendar, Sora would never look at it, and anyway, what would it even have mattered?
But it doesn't make sense at all, because Sora is holding Kairi's hand. And Selphie can't tease them because it looks so natural and deep, like real love, and not awkward, first time, still-blushing-because-people-can-see-them love. Sora is holding her hand and looking happy, and Kairi looks at him with a smile that could reach across worlds, and Selphie can't tease her friends because it's so old. It's too established, to comfortable for her to poke fun and make them turn red, like they've been together for months and months or maybe even years, but Selphie knows that they weren't together before they built the raft, and they've only been gone a month. Or three weeks. Or something like that, because Selphie can't remember the exact day they left, but she knows it definitely hasn't been more than a month.
And so, Selphie wonders.
Wonders about a great many things, like Sora hugging his mother in front of all his friends. And Riku, running straight to his house, vaulting over the fence and nearly forgetting to open the door first. And Kairi, who is the only one acting like she hasn't been gone for years and years, but still seems reluctant to let people out of her sight.
And now Selphie is confused. Because Riku is beaming. Riku is beaming, and laughing, and grinning as if he were trying to win a Sora look-alike competition, and Selphie knows that Riku is happy. But Selphie also knows that Riku doesn't let people know he's happy. Riku is too cool to be grinning like that kid, Sora. Riku is too bored to be so happy. Riku is too mature to let anyone see him beaming, and Selphie can't remember the last time Riku showed emotions that were so tangible, and it's like Riku just can't stop.
And Selphie thinks that now she can hurt Riku, which she could never do before. And she never wanted to, and never will want to, because Riku was always nice, but now she knows how, because Riku is beaming, and letting people like Selphie and Sora and Kairi, and Wakku, and Tidus straight into his soul! And Selphie thinks that Riku must be very brave, to let people get so close, to let people have access to fragile things like feelings, because Riku doesn't seem to care. Riku doesn't seem afraid, Riku is glowing as if he swallowed the sun and doesn't seem worried about what will happen if someone puts that sun out. And it makes Selphie happy, but that's not the Riku who left three weeks ago.
And this makes Selphie confused. Because they've only been gone for three weeks, but everything has changed. And when they sit down around the campfire later, Sora comes to sit by Kairi, and he sits very close, and sometimes holds her hand. And Selphie sees Riku stand up, and she expects Riku to sit on the other side of Kairi, because he always sits on the other side of Kairi, and everyone knows Riku wants to hold that delicate hand. But Riku sits down on the other side of Sora, and he doesn't sit quite as close as Sora sits to Kairi, but it's still much closer than he ever has sat by Sora before, and even though they talk and laugh and joke like they always have, Selphie can see the change, and the change is that Kairi isn't the center of the universe anymore. They're still a threesome, but Sora is in the center, and the worlds of Kairi and Riku revolve around Sora and that's not the way Selphie remembers it!
Later, they separate, and Riku hands Kairi a can of soda and tosses one to Sora and they tease and laugh like it's normal. But Riku and Kairi are talking and laughing and it most definitely does not involve Sora, and Sora knows this, but Sora just looks over at them and smiles and seems so happy. And even though Selphie knows that Sora's always happy, she also knows that one month ago he'd be doing handstands, juggling fruit, or absolutely anything to get Kairi to stop paying attention to Riku and look at him! But now Sora just sits there, even as Riku throws an arm around Kairi's shoulders and squeezes lightly and smiles so warmly. Then Riku goes off to talk to Tidus, and Kairi goes to sit by Sora, and Selphie realizes that Riku isn't even trying! And that is not the ways things were a month ago!
As days go by, everyone is happy to be with the three travelers, and they are happy to be back from their vacation. And they hang out and play like they always have, but Selphie still wonders, because after leaving a shop, Kairi is gasping and panicking. "I forgot about Sora!" And everyone laughs, because it's funny, but then Riku stops, and then everybody stops, because Kairi looks like she's going to cry, and then she turns and runs back to the shop they just left. "I forgot Sora!"
And lazy, late Sora exits the shop, carrying drinks he just purchased, and grins dryly at Kairi. "It's not that big a deal." And Kairi sputters a bit, blushing and embarrassed and still looking like she's going to cry any second.
"I'm so sorry, I forgot all about you." And Sora is startled that Kairi could be crying and looks to Riku for an explanation and Riku just looks confused. So Sora holds her hand leads her back to the group and tells her that he's right here, and even if she left him behind, he'd still follow her back, and Selphie can't understand why in the world Kairi would be so upset by leaving Sora behind at the store.
Sora always sleeps, which is so normal, because as long as Selphie has known him, he's been falling asleep in the sun on the beach, or the moonlight, because he was to lazy to go home after watching a sunset. But now Sora doesn't sleep, except in his own bed at night, because Riku wakes him up. When he walks by and sees Sora sleeping, he pokes him until he wakes up, and then they go off and do something together. And when Sora falls asleep around the bonfire, Riku calls his name, and nudges him with his shoe until Sora wakes up. Riku never lets Sora sleep, but one time Sora won't rise. Riku pokes him teasingly, but Sora doesn't wake up. Riku rolls his eyes and nudges him with his foot, but Sora doesn't move. Wakku tells Riku to let the lazy boy alone, but Riku fills a bucket with water and dumps it on his friend, but Sora only twitches his nose and rolls over. And Selphie is confused, because Riku is grabbing Sora by the shoulders and shaking him violently and very nearly screaming at Sora to wake up, and when Sora finally does, he's mad.
"What did you do that for?" he demands, and Riku tells him that he shouldn't sleep during the middle of the day. "Darn it, I'm tired!" Sora shoots back, "I want a nap! Quit bugging me! I just want to sleep!"
"What, you think you haven't been getting enough, lately?" Riku screams and Selphie can't understand why this is such a big deal to Riku, and apparently, neither can Sora, because he just rolls over, crossly.
"Leave me alone," he whines. "I'm tired, don't bother me."
"Fine!" Riku shouts. "Just sleep. Sleep for a whole year, if you want. See if I care!" And Sora jerks and sits up straight, but Riku is already running down the beach with such a head start that Sora will never catch up. But Sora tries anyway, and several hours later, Sora is sleeping on the beach and Riku is nearby, almost as is guarding him from something.
Selphie doesn't know what to make of that. Riku and Kairi and Sora are more mature now, they do and say strange things, and she supposes it's not that different, but she knows they were only gone a few weeks, and it really shouldn't be like this at all.
They all swim in the ocean, and Sora wins a contest for holding his breath under the water the longest, and Selphie thinks that everything is normal like it was, but then someone congratulates Sora and he winks at Kairi and Riku. "I was a mermaid in a past life."
And Wakku and Tidus laugh, and Selphie laughs, but Riku and Kairi don't laugh until after many seconds have passed, and when they do, they still look incredulous, as if they might believe him. And that confuses Selphie, because when did people start believing what Sora said?
Then Sora falls out of the boat, hitting the rudder. He managed to hurt himself, and starts to sink, so Riku thrusts out a hand and tells Sora to take it. He reaches for it, then stops, and Selphie doesn't know why he stopped, since Sora is sinking, and in pain, but for whatever reason, Sora won't take Riku's hand, and Riku looks scared. So he jumps off the boat and hefts Sora onto it with help from Tidus, and Selphie and Kairi dig through their bags for potions. As soon as Sora is back on the boat, Riku asks why he wouldn't take his hand, and Sora won't meet his eye and all Sora can say is that he thought he saw a wave behind Riku. "Whatever," Riku rolls his eyes, and he seems annoyed that Sora won't talk to him, and is no fun for the rest of the day.
Sora takes the potions, and he has to take all the potions, but Selphie knows a few things about potions. She knows that as people grow, they need a higher dose of potion to get the same effects. She knows that as people get more athletic, stronger, experienced, they need more potion to heal injuries. And so, she just can't understand why every time Riku and Sora get hurt that they have to take so many potions.
And Selphie wonders why whenever Sora sees Riku wading in the ocean, he runs out there, calling Riku's name like a madman. And Riku probably wonders that, too, because he's always startled, and Sora never has anything important to say to him, anyway.
She loves her friends, but sometimes she wondered what happened to them while they were gone for one month, or three weeks, or whatever it was, because it was so short a time that Selphie can't even remember, and so, too short of a time for anything important to happen. But now, Sora and Riku won't go to the movies, because they don't have any munny. And Selphie tells them to ask their moms for some.
Sora looks and Riku. Riku looks at Sora. "No," they say in unison. Kairi suggests that they do chores to earn the money, and Riku grumbles. Sora pales. But that's what they do, and they're unhappy, and Wakka wonders why they don't just ask for it, because they all know their moms would happily give them a little munny to go see a movie. And Selphie wonders, too. But Sora and Riku just scowl and do more chores.
"I wish some Heartless would wander by," Sora mutters.
"Don't say that," Riku responds quickly, but his expression says that deep down, he wants some, too, though Selphie doesn't know what a Heartless is. But she knows that Riku and Sora would rather do chores for munny and have to catch the later movie rather than ask for it from their parents. And that's not all that's different.
Because now Riku and Sora have jobs. And even though they say it's just for a short time, even though Riku is stealing Sora's dorky paper hat and telling him he's too short to see over the counter and the banter is so old and familiar, Selphie knows this is nothing like it used to be before they left.
Before they left, Sora was never serious. If he ever felt serious, he never showed it, and Selphie would never place any sort of responsibility on Sora, but now she's starting to put trust in him, and depend on him, and he's so mature, and serious, but still so happy.
And Kairi is strong, and confident, and aware, even more so than she ever was. Sometimes Selphie looks at Kairi and thinks she carries herself like royalty would. Like a queen.
And Riku is happy. On Destiny Island. And other times, Riku is not happy, and he has to take long walks by himself and sometimes Sora has to go with him, and when he comes back, sometimes you wonder if he might have been crying. And sometimes after those walks, Sora has to go off by himself and everyone knows he's crying.
And Selphe knows that all this was not going on a month ago.
Sora asks for sea-salt ice cream, and nobody's ever heard of that. Sometimes Kairi draws pictures with crayons, even though she's never liked to draw and she's terrible at it. Riku deflects compliments and willingly tells people that he's not all that great, even when Sora is concerned, and maybe especially where Sora is concerned. And Selphie is confused by this.
The power goes off, and Selphie, Wakka and Tidus bump into things, but Sora just stays still. "Riku, where are you?" And Riku leads him to Kairi, and tells everyone to just stay still and wait. And Riku goes to check the fuse box while Selphie is scared, and Wakka's pretending not to be scared, and Sora's probably nervous because he's always been afraid of the dark, but for some reason is just humming over by Kairi, who is not scared at all. The power doesn't come back because there's a storm, but Riku gets flashlights and candles and that's when Selphie realizes that Riku's been wandering all over in the dark and hasn't bumped into a single thing and it's not even his house!
And at Riku's birthday party Tidus puts the blindfold on Riku and spins him, and Riku starts swinging the stick in the complete opposite direction of the piñata, and Selphie laughs because it's so funny and normal. But Sora is bored and wants candy. And Sora tells Riku to stop being stupid. And suddenly, Riku turns around and swings his stick and hits the piñata so solidly that it was as if he could see exactly where it was, and now, Selphie is confused.
One day, Riku jumps up from the bonfire and starts walking off. "Sora, I smell something over there."
"Barbeque?" Sora asks, hopefully. But Riku shakes his head and speaks more urgently.
"No, I smell something over there." And Sora is on his feet and running off with Riku and no one knows where they're going and Kairi looks worried but she just sighs. And Selphie doesn't know what to think of it all.
Because so much seems the same, and so much is different. And one day, Riku is teaching Kairi how to fight with a wooden sword, which Kairi has never shown interest in learning before, and Sora comes to sit by Selphie.
"Selphie, have you ever fallen in love?"
And Selphie smirks. Little crushes, big crushes, maybe even more than just a crush… she nods yes, but she'd never tell those names to Sora, no matter how mature he got on his little three week/one month adventure.
"How long do you think it takes to fall out of love?" Selphie doesn't know, and she isn't sure why Sora's asking. Sora looks out at Riku and Kairi, and they look like they're having fun, but there's an unusual look in Riku's eyes, and it makes Sora sigh.
"Riku's not going to win that fight," he predicts. "I already did." Selphie, once again, is confused. "And he knows it, too. But he's still here, and he's so happy…" he trails off, staring at the couple that will never be a couple, and Selphie doesn't know why, because one month ago, she felt sure that Kairi would have picked Riku over Sora, even if Sora was a darn sweet boy. "Makes me kind of sad…"
Selphie doesn't understand. Sora asks her if anybody on the island likes Riku.
"Does Riku like anybody on the island?" she smirks, and Sora laughs.
"Just one," he chuckles. "That makes me really sad." Sora laughs when he's sad. Selphie doesn't know why, but that is normal, no matter what else changed. And Sora wanders off to get sodas and leaves Selphie to wonder about all these things by herself.
And Selphie wonders if someday, she'll build a raft of her own, and sail out to worlds beyond Destiny Island. She wonders if someday, someone will hold her hand like she's a loved princess and he's her own personal hero. She wonders if she'll ever learn to be so grateful for the precious things in front of her, and brave enough to give up everything for them.
And Selphie decides to wait, because she's not ready for her adventure yet. But it will happen, because as much as things seem to stay the same, some things change. And even when some things change, they can seem just the same as before.
And Sora, Kairi and Riku sit on the beach, watching sunsets and looking so content with it all, and Selphie hopes that this will always be the new normal.